Invitees entered through the East Wing with a seamless check-in process guarded by staff and plenty of Secret Service officers. At the doorway, The Shade Room spoke to political commentator Ana Navarro and EGOT winner Whoopi, who complimented TSR with an “I love The Shade Room.”
Outside the screening room, the White House arranged two tables of movie snacks, including bite-sized candy and chocolate, popcorn, sodas, and water. A string quartet played live music, and staff generously greeted and guided guests.
For those who haven’t seen the film, Danielle portrays Mamie. Whoopi portrays Mamie’s mother, Alma Carthan. Though they were both present, President Biden was the only person who spoke to the audience. At one point, he highlighted the antilynching bill passed in 2022–decades after Till’s murder.
“…It’s almost exactly one year ago that I signed a law more than 100 years in the making,” Biden said. “One of the great honors of my career, The Emmett Till Antilynching Act, making lynching a federal hate crime.”
Between 1882 and 1968, over 3,400 Black people were lynched in the United States, per Tuskegee Institute archives. Mississippi, where Emmett was lynched, has the highest reported cases of Black people being lynched at 539. Finally, after 200 failed attempts, the House passed the antilynching bill with a 422-3 vote in early March 2022. Biden signed it into law on March 29. Per the law, the hate crime is punishable by up to 30 years.
During Thursday’s screening, Biden described lynching as “pure terror.” He highlighted how Black people were killed for “trying to vote, trying to go to school, trying to own a business, trying to preach the gospel,” and “simply being Black.”
President Biden closed his remarks by highlighting the Black press’s essential role in spreading Till’s story. Jet Magazine published the photo of Till’s mutilated body, with Mamie’s permission, in 1955.
“There’s one more hero in this story you have to acknowledge…a lot of people forget this. The Black Press at the time. The times, the Jet Magazine, and other black newspapers were unflinching and brave in sharing the story of Emmett Till and searing it into the nation’s consciousness.”
At the end of his speech, the audience rose to their feet in applause. Throughout the 130-minute film, the audience sniffled and wiped tears. White House staff had previously placed tissues on the seats in anticipation of emotional reactions to the screening.
After the film ended, Danielle and Whoopi floated through saloon-styled rooms decorated with antiqued paintings, tableware, and giant mirrors, talking to guests and taking photos. White House staff handed out bite-sized treats, appetizers, desserts, filled champagne flutes, and wine glasses.
In Biden’s closing quote of Ida B. Wells:
“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon the wrongs,” he said said. “That’s our charge today and still exists.”